New START in time for Christmas?
For these reasons and more, New START is unanimously supported by the entire U.S. military leadership and is backed by five former secretaries of defense, six former secretaries of state, seven former heads of the military command in charge of our nuclear weapons and countless other former military and civilian officials. They support timely ratification because it will make the U.S. safer.
The outpouring of bipartisan support for New START should bode well for the treaty’s prospects in the full Senate. A supermajority of 67 votes is required to approve the pact.
In September the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the treaty by a vote of 14-4. Republicans Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) joined the 11 Democrats on the Committee to vote in support of the resolution of ratification.
To date the Republican leadership has pursued a “delay and extract” strategy designed to impose political and financial costs on the Obama administration as it pursues Senate approval of the treaty.
Senator Jon Kyl, the Minority Whip and leader of the Republican Party on nuclear issues, has conditioned his support for the treaty on a commitment from the administration to spend more on the nuclear weapons complex. In response the administration has pledged to spend $85 billion over the next ten years to maintain the stockpile and modernize the complex.
Indeed, save for a few Senators, most of the GOP objections to the treaty are not within the four corners of the agreement, such as spending on nuclear modernization, or irrelevant events such as the North Korean depredation or the temporary shutdown of communications with some U.S. land-based missiles.
And most recently, Republicans are linking the treaty to congressional action on tax cuts.
The heavy breathing from Republicans over a nuclear treaty signed by a Democratic president contrasts sharply with their ho-hum acceptance of treaties signed by GOP Presidents, including the Treaty of Moscow signed by George W. Bush that had zero verification provisions. And the START I treaty signed by George H.W. Bush was approved by an overwhelming 93-6 vote on October 1, 1992, one month before the 1992 presidential election.
In recent days there appear to be signs that a growing number of Republicans are warming to voting on New START before the end of the year. As Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) stated on Tuesday, “I believe that we could move forward with the START treaty and satisfy Senator Kyl’s concerns and mine about missile defense and others.”
This is as it should be. The Senate is expected to remain in session for at least another two weeks, which is more than enough time to consider the treaty. The 1991 START I treaty required five days of debate, while the 2002 Moscow Treaty only took two days. The treaty has been extensively reviewed: More than 20 hearings and briefings have been held and the administration has answered 900 questions from Senators. There is no substantive reason why the Senate shouldn’t take up and approve the treaty before the end of the year. To do otherwise would be to deny the U.S. military an important tool it says it needs.
John Isaacs is the executive director of the Council for a Livable World where Kingston Reif is the director of Nuclear Non-Proliferation.